HD Projectors review

For a real home theatre experience, you can’t match an HD projector.
 
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  • Updated:10 Aug 2009
 

01 .Introduction

HD projector

Test results for 8 home theatre projectors priced $1999 to $4700

High-definition TV screens are all the rage these days and seem to be getting bigger by the month, but if you want a real home theatre experience even the biggest LCD and plasma screens can’t hold a candle to a high-definition projector. In a home theatre, size matters, and a projector can give you a picture several times the size of even the biggest TV ‘box’, and with quality to match.

Through rigorous tests carried out in our labs, the projectors were awarded scores for:

  • Ease of use
  • Picture quality
  • Energy use

Please note: this information was current as of August 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Brands tested

  • Acer P5260i
  • Epson Dreamio EMP-TW2000
  • InFocus X10
  • Mitsubishi Electric HC4900
  • Optoma HD65
  • Planar PD7010
  • Sanyo PLVZ2000
  • Sony VPLAW15

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The following models scored the best results in our test.
What to buy
Brand Price
Planar PD7010 $1999
Sanyo PLVZ2000 $3102
Epson Dreamio EMP-TW2000 $4700

Results table

Full results for all models are shown in the table below.

  Specifications
Brand/model Price Paid Overall Performance (70%) Ease of use (20%) Projector type Dimensions Weight (kg) Connections Exhaust vent
Epson Dreamio EMP-TW2000
www.epson.com.au
$4700
81 84 76 LCD 14 x 41 x 35 5.4
Composite, S-Video, VGA, Component (YPbPr), 2 x HDMI, RS-232C, trigger port
Front
Sanyo PLVZ2000
www.sanyo.com.au
$3102
81 83 73 LCD 15.5 x 40 x 34.5 7.4
Composite, S-Video, VGA, 2 xComponent (YPbPr), 2 x HDMI, RS-232C
Right
Planar PD7010
www.internationaldynamics.com.au
$1999
80 83 63 DLP 15 x 35 x 31.5 4
Composite, S-Video, VGA, Component (YPbPr), DVI, HDMI, RS-232C, USB (Type B), trigger port, wired remote
Right
Mitsubishi HC4900
www.mitsubishielectric.com.au
$3,300 [f]
76 80 76 LCD 14 x 33.5 x 37.5 5.6
Composite, S-Video, VGA, Component (YPbPr), DVI, HDMI, RS-232C, trigger port
Right
InFocus X10
www.infocus.com
$3499
75 87 56 DLP 15.5 x 48 x 43.5 6.2
Composite, S-Video, Component (RGB), DVI, HDMI, RS-232C
Left
Optoma HD65
www.optoma.com.au
$1,765 [f]
75 80 71 DLP 8.5 x 26 x 20 2
Composite, S-Video, Component (RGB), Component (YPbPr), HDMI, USB (Type B), trigger port
Front
Sony VPLAW15
www.sony.com.au
$2499
69 69 74 LCD 13 x 37.5 x 32.5 6.1
Composite, S-Video, VGA, Component (YPbPr), HDMI, RS-232C
Left
Acer P5260i
www.acer.com.au
$2013
64 68 66 DLP 11 x 30 x 23 2.9
Composite, S-Video, VGA in, VGA out, DVI, HDMI, RS-232C, USB (Type B), Audio in, Audio out, RJ45, 802.11b/g
Left
 


  Features
Brand/model Claimed contrast ratio at high power Native resolution [a] Child lock Image position adjustment Brightness at high and low power (lumens)
Claimed lamp life at high and low power (hours)
Epson Dreamio EMP-TW2000
www.epson.com.au
50,000:1 dynamic 1080p Lens shift: ±100% vertical, ±50% horizontal [d] high - 1600, low - 360

high - 2500, low - 3000
Sanyo PLVZ2000
www.sanyo.com.au
15,000:1 dynamic 1080p Lens shift: ±100% vertical, ±50% horizontal [d] high - 1200, low - ns high - 2000, low - 3000
Planar PD7010
www.internationaldynamics.com.au
2500:1 native 720p Digital keystoning: ±15° vertical, ±40° horizontal high - 1000, low - ns average - 4000
Mitsubishi HC4900
www.mitsubishielectric.com.au
7500:1 dynamic 1080p Digital keystoning: range not stated high - 1000, low - ns high - 2000, low - 5000
InFocus X10
www.infocus.com
2500:1 native, 7500:1 dynamic 1080p Digital keystoning: ±13° vertical high - 1200, low - 960 high - 2000, low - 2500
Optoma HD65
www.optoma.com.au
4000:1 dynamic 720p Digital keystoning: ±40° vertical high - 1600, low - ns high - 2000, low - 3000
Sony VPLAW15
www.sony.com.au
12,000:1 dynamic 720p Lens shift: ±65% vertical, ±25% horizontal [g] high - 1100, low - 830 high - 2000, low - 3000
Acer P5260i
www.acer.com.au
2000:1 native XGA Digital keystoning: ±40° vertical high - 2700, low - 2160 high - 3000, low - 4000
 


  Running cost
Brand/model Replacement lamp cost Lamp cost per hour at high and low power Estimated annual Lamp cost [b] Standby energy (watt hours per hour) In-use energy (watt hours per hour) Estimated annual energy cost [b] Total est. annual
running cost [c]
Projector warranty (years)
Lamp warranty
Epson Dreamio EMP-TW2000
www.epson.com.au
$449
high - $0.18, low - $0.15 109.26 3.1 182.6 $26.86 $136.12 3 3 years
Sanyo PLVZ2000
www.sanyo.com.au
$446 high - $0.22, low - $0.15 108.62 1.2 200.5 $26.57 $135.19 3 [e]
3 years [e] or 4000 hours
Planar PD7010
www.internationaldynamics.com.au
$649 average - $0.16 118.44 0.7 245 $31.37 $149.81 1 12 months
Mitsubishi HC4900
www.mitsubishielectric.com.au
$599 high - $0.30, low - $0.12 87.45 6.7 164 $29.54 $116.99 2 12 months or 500 hours
InFocus X10
www.infocus.com
$761 high - $0.38, low - $0.30 222.21 9.8 321.3 $53.30 $275.52 2 6 months
Optoma HD65
www.optoma.com.au
$290 high - $0.15, low - $0.10 70.57 7.3 207.8 $35.81 $106.38 3 12 months or 1000 hours
Sony VPLAW15
www.sony.com.au
$499 high - $0.25, low - $0.17 121.42 4.2 163.6 $26.09 $147.52 2 500 hours [h]
Acer P5260i
www.acer.com.au
$399 high - $0.13, low - $0.10 72.82 11.4 238.5 $45.19 $118.00 2 6 Months OR 1000 Hours
 

Table notes

1 Price paid in July 2008.
2 Overall score is made up of:

  • Performance (70%)
  • Ease of use (20%)
  • Standby energy (10%).

3 Specifications:

  • Projector type whether the projector uses Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) technology or Digital Light Processing (DLP).
  • Dimensions external size of projector (height, width, depth);
  • Weight in kilograms.
  • Connections types of ports provided for connecting to video sources.
  • Exhaust vent positioning of vent for cooling.

4 Features:
Claimed contrast ratio at high power contrast ratio figure and type claimed by manufacturer.
Native resolution actual pixel resolution without interpolation.
Child lock whether settings can be locked against unauthorised or accidental change.
Image position adjustment type of image adjustment, whether lens shift or digital keystone correction, and claimed amount.
Brightness at high and low power (lumens) light output in high and low power mode if available, measured in ANSI Lumens (ns = not stated);.
Claimed lamp life at high and low power (hours) manufacturer supplied figures.
Replacement lamp cost projector bulb replacement cost, RRP INC GST.
Lamp cost per hour at high and low power calculated from lamp cost and claimed lamp life.
Est. annual lamp cost based on lamp cost per hour and normal usage scenario of 2 hours use and 22 hours standby per day.
Standby energy, watt hours per hour how much energy is used in standby mode.
In-use Energy, watt hours per hour how much energy is consumed with the projector in use.
Estimated annual energy cost estimated cost of powering the projector for a year, in dollars, based on 2 hours use and 22 hours standby per day.
Total est. running cost calculated from adding Est. annual lamp cost and Est. annual energy cost.
Projector Warranty, years the length of the projector's normal warranty period in years.
Lamp warranty the length of the lamp warranty in normal use.

Footnotes:
[a] XGA is 1024 x 768 pixels; 720p is 1280 x 720 pixels; 1080p is 1920 x 1080 pixels.
[b] Based on 2 hours per day in use at the low power setting and 22 hours on standby. Energy costed at $0.17 per kiloWatt hour.
[c] Combined estimated annual lamp cost plus estimated annual energy cost.
[d] At maximum vertical lens shift the maximum horizontal lens shift cannot be achieved and vice versa.
[e] Third year only redeemed with additional warranty card included.
[f] It's been announced that both the Mitsubishi and the Sony models tested will soon be discontinued. However, they may still be available in shops, possibly at a reduced price. Replacement models: Mitsubishi HC5500; Sony VPLHW10 (1080p) and VPLEW5 (720p).
[g] When the lens is horizontally shifted vertical shift is limited to 25%.
[h] If lamp fails between 501 and 1500 hours Sony will provide a replacement lamp at 50% cost

How we tested

Picture quality Picture quality was assessed using a panel of three experts. The projectors were set up in a blacked out room and the panel evaluated picture quality using a variety of sources with content designed to highlight the projector’s ability to handle animated and live action, text and titles, dark and light scenes, skin tones, flat colours and dynamic variations. The sources included various movie footage excerpts from a high-definition version of the same movie in Blu-ray format and high-definition in-game footage from a Sony PlayStation 3 games console, in both cases connected via HDMI.

Also viewed were corresponding excerpts from a DVD (with upscaling provided by the projector) connected via component cabling (in one case S-video was used as component connection wasn’t provided). The panel paid particular attention to colour, brightness, contrast and clarity of the overall picture in each case, along with any noticeable dominant or unnatural colour or geometric anomalies such as colour banding, screen door or rainbow effects, jerkiness when panning, blurred detail, image vibration, colour bleeding and oversaturation and colour trails in fast-moving images.

Ease of use For scoring the overall ease of use our tester assessed the quality of the remote control (50% of overall score), onscreen display (20%), setting up controls (20%) and onboard controls (10%). To assess this, the tester used the onboard, onscreen and remote controls to perform a series of typical tasks, paying attention to the size, shape and layout of all controls, clarity of labelling, accessibility, logical menu structure; intuitive descriptor words, phrases or symbols; indicator lights; ease of finding and using the most commonly used controls, and difficulty in finding and using controls and menu items only used occasionally.

Energy use The energy consumption of each projector was measured with the projectors using stabilised electric power in standby mode and in use, and the results combined and converted to dollars to give a total annual energy use figure, based on a typical-use scenario of 22 hours of standby and 2 hours of active use per day, with power cost at 17c per kWh.

Profiles - what to buy

Planar PD7010

Planar PD7010 Good points

  • Excellent standby energy score.
  • Best value for money.
  • Can be ceiling mounted.
  • Can project from the rear.

Bad points

  • Second lowest for ease of use.
  • Not native 1080p resolution.
  • Only a 12-month warranty on projector and lamp.
  • Limited throw ratio range.

Sanyo PLVZ2000

Sanyo PLVZ2000 Good points

  • Equal highest score overall.
  • Native 1080p resolution.
  • Wide throw ratio range.
  • Can be ceiling mounted.
  • Can project from the rear.

Bad points

  • Relatively large and bulky.

Epson Dreamio EMP-TW2000

Epson Dreamio EMP-TW2000Good points

  • Equal highest score overall
  • Equal highest ease of use.
  • Native 1080p resolution.
  • Wide throw ratio range.
  • Can be ceiling mounted.
  • Can project from the rear.

Bad points

  • Most expensive of the models tested.

 

Profiles - the rest

Mitsubishi Electric HC4900

Mitsubishi Electric HC4900Good points

  • Equal highest ease of use.
  • Native 1080p resolution.
  • Can be ceiling mounted.
  • Can project from the rear.

Bad points

  • Nothing to mention.

InFocus X10

Infocus X10Good points

  • Best performance in viewing assessment.
  • Native 1080p resolution.
  • Can be ceiling mounted.
  • Can project from the rear.

Bad points

  • Most expensive running costs.
  • Worst ease of use.
  • No onboard controls.
  • Relatively large and bulky.
  • Limited throw ratio range
  • Equal last in standby energy score.
  • No VGA connection.

Optoma HD65

Optoma HD65Good points

  • Lowest running costs.
  • Cheapest unit.
  • Compact, lightweight.
  • Can be ceiling mounted.
  • Can project from the rear.

Bad points

  • Not native 1080p resolution.
  • Limited throw ratio range.
  • No VGA connection.

Sony Bravia VPLAW15

Sony Bravia VPLAW15 Good points

  • Rated good for ease of use.
  • Can be ceiling mounted.
  • Can project from the rear.

Bad points

  • Rated only OK in viewing assessment.
  • Not native 1080p resolution.

Acer P5260i

Acer P5260iGood points

  • Compact, lightweight unit.
  • Has a wireless connection (802.11b/g) for presentations.
  • Has RJ45 connection.
  • Has laser pointer in remote.
  • Can be ceiling mounted.
  • Can project from the rear.

Bad points

  • Lowest for overall and performance.
  • Not native 1080p resolution.
  • Not widescreen format.
  • Rated only OK in viewing assessment.
  • Limited throw ratio range.

The Epson, Sanyo and Planar projectors stood out in overall rankings in our testing, but it’s the Planar PD7010 that really shines in terms of value for money. Though its native resolution is only 720p, it was right up there wAith its 1080p competition for picture quality and at just $1999, the Planar was over $1000 cheaper than the Sanyo and nearly $3000 cheaper than the Epson.

If you want a full 1080p projector the Sanyo PLVZ2000 is best value, scoring equal tops overall. It was narrowly edged out for image performance and ease of use by the Epson EMP-TW2000, but comes at a much lower cost.

Setup

Straight out of the box, all the projectors were relatively easy to set up, with the InFocus being marked down slightly because its cable and focus covers were a little awkward to replace. All setup was done on a flat surface and no ceiling mounts were tested. If you want to mount a projector from the ceiling, unless you’re a very competent home handyman, it’s a task probably best left to the professionals.

Ease of use

Once set up, the projectors were generally easy to use. All but the InFocus had onboard controls. However, this would not be an issue if you were to mount the projector on the ceiling where those controls would be out of reach anyway. The Mitsubishi had the best remote control, while the Optoma and Epson scored highest for their onscreen display. Overall, the easiest to use were the Epson and the Mitsubishi.

Picture quality

All the projectors tested handled DVD movies acceptably, including upscaling where necessary, and you’d be hard pressed to complain about them compared to watching a DVD on a widescreen TV. But as you might expect, the high-definition viewing of Blu-ray movies and game play was where they really shone. The extra image crispness and detail is particularly noticeable on a big screen, making for a much more immersive experience. Only one of the projectors in our roundup, the Acer, was a ‘business class’ device rather than a dedicated home theatre model and its viewing panel scores reflect this.

Connections

Having the right connections is important, particularly for high-definition output. All the tested projectors come with a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) and two of them — the Epson and Sanyo — each came with two HDMI connections. Four also came with a Digital Video Interface (DVI) connection, useful for hooking up to a computer — the Acer, InFocus, Mitsubishi and Planar. All except the Acer also came with Component connections.

All the projectors tested had infra-red remote sensors at the front, except the InFocus, which had sensors at either side. Only the Epson, Mitsubishi and Planar also had sensors at the rear, to make it easy to change settings from behind the projector. This can be handy if the projector is set up at the front of the room.

Business or pleasure?

Buying a quality high-definition projector is only part of the home theatre equation. To get the best out of your investment, you need to also look at the environment in which it will be used and even what you’re projecting onto.

When looking around it’s also important to know where to draw the line between home theatre projectors and business projectors. They may be tempting price-wise, but don’t be fooled. A business projector won’t give you the native resolution or aspect ratio you want for high-definition viewing, so be sure to check first.

We were surprised to find a wireless antenna at the rear and USB port on the breakout panel of the Acer P5260i, as these tend to appear on more business-focused models. Despite what we were told by the manufacturer, we found the Acer isn't really for home use, hence its relatively poor viewing panel scores.

With a 1024 x 768-pixel resolution and a 4:3 aspect ratio, it’s better-equipped for PowerPoint presentations than home cinema, resulting in heavily-rescaled images in our HD tests. While the Acer’s high brightness makes it suitable for presentations in less than favourable lighting, it comes at the expense of contrast. The ability to stream a signal wirelessly may also attract some users, but again, these are more likely to be business presenters than home media enthusiasts.

If you’re looking for a dual-purpose unit, then perhaps the Acer P5260i might fit the bill. But dedicated home theatre? Not likely.

Position

Whether you mount your projector on the ceiling or on a ground-based platform such as a table or shelf, the decision will be the foundation stone of your home theatre setup and everything else will fall into place around it. The size and shape of the room is a starting point in deciding where to put your projector and can influence the type of projector you buy.

The distance of the projector from the screen will determine the size of the projected image and affect brightness. This is called the throw ratio, or projection distance. Careful attention needs be paid to the throw ratio to ensure that a projector will fill a screen from its intended position.

Also, sitting too close for the size of the screen, in particular, will detract from even a top quality projector. So, make sure you’re at the optimum distance to get the maximum quality from your projector. Do your sums first. For help, try the online viewing distance calculator at www.myhometheater.homestead.com or go to www.homecinemacentral.com.au and from the right side menu click Screen Calculator.

'Keystone effect'

If you project your image at an angle from below or above, your image will be wider at the top than the bottom, or vice versa. This wedge shape is called the keystone effect. The ideal positioning is to have the projector centred straight-on to the screen, but this isn’t always possible, so the projector needs to be able to correct this keystone distortion to ensure a correct image.

There are two methods of eliminating the keystone effect: digital keystone correction and lens shift. Of these two, lens shift is the better method as it uses optical adjustment — actually moving the lens — to compensate and keep the image rectangular without degrading image quality. Note though, that you can’t use maximum lens shift in more than one direction at a time.

Digital keystone correction doesn’t move the lens, but aims to compensate for the skew by digitally compressing and distorting the image at the source to make it appear rectangular on screen. This can cause noticeable jaggies along the edge of the corrected image. Of the projectors tested, three had lens shift capability: the Epson, Sanyo and Sony. All the others used digital keystone.

Size

Before you buy a projector, you should probably pause to consider whether it’s the right technology for your environment. Thanks to huge demand and improved mass-production techniques for both mainstream plasma and LCD televisions, projectors have lost their earlier price advantage over flat-panel displays.

On the one hand, even Sharp’s 108-inch monster LCD TV still can’t compete with a home theatre projector at full stretch -- the Sanyo PLVZ2000, for example, can fill a massive 724-inch (diagonal) screen, without the need for a reinforced wall and a team of burly engineers to install it. Conversely, few of us have the hangar-sized lounge room to accommodate such an image, particularly if you want to avoid feeling like you’re stuck in the front row of a cinema.

Ambient light and line-of-sight are also considerations. All displays suffer when used in bright light, but the reflected light of a projection screen is particularly sensitive to this, which limits its effective use to dark environments. Projectors are best mounted on the ceiling to avoid casting shadows when someone gets up to make a cup of tea. Not only that, but you’ll need to consider a separate sound system, as home theatre projectors rarely include speakers (and even then, never enough to fill a large room with quality audio).

The upshot is that, for a home theatre projector to really shine, you need the space for a room with controllable lighting and a dedicated projection surface. Add running costs like lamp replacement to the mix and perhaps a smaller screen size doesn’t sound that bad after all.

Do it in the dark

None of the projectors here will show their best unless the room you use them in is dark — preferably very dark. Any light sources other than the projector will detract from the quality of the projected image. You may want to install ‘blackout’ curtains that you can draw across windows for daytime viewing. Or, you may need a more highly reflective screen to boost image brightness if you can’t make the room completely dark.

This is an important consideration: what to project your high-resolution image onto. Even if you have a completely dark room, don’t be tempted to use your white painted wall for projecting onto if you’re after maximum quality. You need a good quality home theatre screen. Projection screens have special optical coatings that enhance their reflective quality. A plain wall will cut quality in all the important areas: sharpness, highlights, colour balance, contrast, and saturation.

Also, don’t forget the benefit of framing your image properly. A good screen will include the benefit of a non-reflective black border to enhance contrast and provide a clean look to the edges of the picture.

Which 'gain'?

Dedicated projection home screens come in a variety of grades, qualities and even colours — most will be white, but some are a light neutral grey designed to enhance black levels. Screens also come with different ‘gain’ characteristics. Gain is a measure of the amount of light reflected by the screen. A higher gain screen should provide a brighter picture, but not necessarily a better one, to help compensate for more ambient light such as the ‘leakage’ that is often present with daylight viewing. Low gain screens require a completely dark room. A gain of ‘1’ is considered neutral.

Paint your own

If you want a really big screen and you’re a DIY enthusiast you might find it more economical to paint your wall using a reflective acrylic paint specially formulated for projection. There are several brands available and though they’ll set you back a lot more than common house paint, they could give you a megascreen without breaking the bank.

Helpfully, Screen Goo, provides a product selector on its website (www.goosystems.com) to help choose the right type and amount of paint required for a particular screen size and projector model. Other possibilities include Mighty Brighty (www.canohm.com.au) and Paint On Screen (www.paintonscreen.com). Note, however, that we haven’t tested these so we can’t comment on their performance or recommend them.

Four of the projectors used LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) technology and four used DLP (Digital Light Processing). Both kinds of technology have their pros and cons and it’s helpful to know what they are so you can make the right choice for your home theatre setup.

LCD projectors generally use three transparent LCD panels — one each for red, green, and blue — which allow individual pixels to be turned on or off as the light passes through, to make up the projected picture. LCDs tend to have brighter output than DLPs at the same lumen output.

DLP technology uses minuscule mirrors set out in a matrix on a semiconductor chip, known as a Digital Micromirror Device (DMD). The number of mirrors corresponds to the resolution of the projected image. Light is filtered onto the mirrors through a colour wheel to produce alternating red, green and blue thousands of times a second, which produces the final projected colour image. DLP projectors tend to have higher contrast ratios than LCD.

High-end DLP projectors can have three separate DLP chips — one each for red, green and blue. The quality of three-chip DLP is superb, but they’re generally used for larger installations such as commercial cinemas. The cost can be many times the price of single-chip DLP home projectors.

On the minus side for single-chip DLP technology is that it can produce a ‘rainbow effect’ (see Over the rainbow, page 13), while LCD projectors tend to produce the ‘screen door effect’, in which the fine lines separating the pixels are visible in the projected image. This can make the picture appear as if you’re looking at it though a very fine mesh screen and can be particularly noticeable in large flat areas of light colour.

However, visibility of both these effects is dependent on the individual — not everyone sees these defects quite the same way, if at all. In our testing, neither effect was a noticeable issue for our viewing panel with the top four projectors — two of which used DLP and two used LCD.

In terms of which technology provides the better viewing experience, that too can be a matter of personal preference. In our assessment of picture quality, we found the top four projectors bunched closely together. The InFocus (a DLP projector) was rated the top performer visually, just ahead of the Epson and Sanyo (both LCD), and the Planar (DLP).

The "rainbow effect"

Rainbow effectAnyone looking at buying a DLP projector needs to consider the "rainbow effect". Unique to single-chip DLP (Digital Light Processor) models, this manifests itself as a distracting trail of red, green and blue after-images that’s often visible on high-contrast scenes.

It’s caused by the way DLP projectors use a spinning wheel of red, green and blue filters to reproduce colour from a single DMD (Digital Micromirror Device). As your eyes travel across the projected image, they may pick up these individual colours instead of the ‘mixed’ image, which is detrimental to image quality in the first instance, but can cause eyestrain or headaches over long periods.

However, not everyone will notice it. In our testing panel, only one tester was bothered by it; the rest only spotted it in rare circumstances. If you fall into the latter category, then you can choose whichever projector suits your needs and budget. But if your eyes are as sensitive to the rainbow effect as the tester in our panel, DLP projectors in their current state are unsuitable. Ironically, the darker the room and the larger the projected screen, the more likely it is that the rainbow effect will appear.

To find out if this will be a problem for you, look at a DLP projector in action: pick a high-contrast scene and quickly look from one end of the screen to the other. If you see coloured trails, then you should probably consider an LCD projector instead.

Photo: Damien Donnelly

Dictionary

  • DLP: Digital Light Processing — a projection technology that uses individually controlled micro mirrors to produce an image.
  • DVI: Digital Visual Interface — a connection that can transfer a digital video signal directly to a video display without conversion to analogue, resulting in a high quality image.
  • Dynamic contrast ratio: the ratio of the luminosity of the brightest and the darkest colour the system is capable of producing over time.
  • LCD: A projection technology that filters light through red, green and blue LCD panels to create a larger composite picture.
  • Lumen (ANSI Lumen) a standard measurement of light used to rate the light output from a projector’s lamp.
  • HDMI: High-definition Multimedia Interface — a single cable solution for home theatre and consumer electronics equipment.
  • Native Resolution: How many pixels are actually displayed by the projector. Screen gain: a measurement of the reflectivity of a projection surface. A gain of 1 is equivalent to a standard white board. A higher gain means more light is reflected.
  • Throw ratio: The distance from a screen that a projector needs to be in order to create an image of a specified size.
  • Upscaling: A process that mathematically matches the pixel count of the output of a standard or non-HD signal (such as a DVD) to the physical pixel count on an HDTV.

Buying a projector is only half the story. The ongoing running costs can add substantially to the cost of a projector:

Lamp

Projector lamps need replacement at regular intervals, usually from 3000 to 5000 hours (though lamp warranty may be much less). The lamp replacement cost can vary greatly and needs to be taken into account when adding up the total cost of projector ownership.

Because lamps last varying amounts of time before replacement, to make it easier to compare lamp costs we calculated the replacement cost of the lamp per hour of use for each of the test models. This was based on the manufacturer’s claimed maximum lamp life and lamp replacement cost.

The Optoma had the cheapest lamp ($290) and tied with the Acer for lowest lamp cost per hour at just 10 cents. The InFocus had the highest replacement cost at $761 so it’s not surprising that its lamp cost per hour was around twice as much — up to 38 cents on high power mode.

Power

We measured the power used by each projector in both standby mode and in-use. We then calculated the cost of running each projector for a year, using a usage scenario of two hours per day in-use and 22 hours on standby and electricity cost of 17 cents per kiloWatt hour. Cheapest to run were the Sony, Sanyo and Epson all under $27 per year and half the cost of the InFocus at $53 per annum.

Total cost

to get an estimated total running cost for each projector we applied our usage scenario of two hours per day in-use and 22 hours on standby to the minimum lamp replacement cost per hour combined with estimated annual power usage cost.

The Optoma came in cheapest on an estimated total annual running cost at $106.38, helped along by its low lamp cost. The most expensive was the InFocus, with estimated total running cost at a whopping $275.52 per year — over 2.5 times the cost of running the Optoma, which finished the test with an equal score overall.

Other things to look for

Warm up and cool down: Unlike a TV, a projector isn’t something you flick on and off at will. It needs time to warm up before it can display a picture (boot time) and it won’t be at its best quality until it’s had more time to warm up properly. Then, when you’re finished, it needs time to cool down. Heeding the manufacturer’s recommendations will help maximise the lamp life and save you money.

The quickest projector to go from off to displaying a picture was the Planar, with an average time of 17 seconds, followed closely at 18 seconds by the Sony and Optoma. The slowest to go from off to displaying a picture was the Mitsubishi, at 42 seconds, just behind the Sanyo at 38. The InFocus, Acer and Epson booted up in around half that time, at 20, 21 and 22 seconds respectively.

Resolution: a projector’s native resolution is the resolution at which it can display images without having to scale the image up or down. You’ll only get the maximum high-definition quality — 1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels) — if the source resolution matches the output. For example, a Blu-ray 1080p movie played on a 1080p projector. Of those tested, four had a native resolution of 1080p: the Epson, Sanyo, Mitsubishi and InFocus. The Planar, Optoma and Sony had a native resolution of 720p (1280 x 720 pixels), while the Acer’s native resolution was XGA (1024 x 768 pixels).

Heat output: a projector generates a fair amount of heat when running so it’s best to give it adequate ventilation and keep the vents away from obstructions and young, prying fingers. The coolest-running projector in the test was the Sony, at an average 58°C, while the hottest was the Acer at 81°C. A noticeable plume of hot air was emitted from all units when warmed up and vent placement — at the front, left or right, depending on the model — could be a consideration when deciding where to position the projector.

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